Spicy Cheesy Potato Soup

Hi y’all!  (How long do you have to live in Texas before you’re allowed to say that?)  We’ve been in Austin now for nearly 4 months and love everything about it.  Especially the food – the finest the city has to offer is often served up right off of a truck, making it easy, accessible, and cheap to try a little bit of everything.  At 27 years of age and after living in and visiting some of the most fantastic food cities, I find myself a passionate foodie and love everything about learning and experimenting in the kitchen.  Kyle’s letting me post here, and hopefully my long-winded premier is worthy of an invite back.

I woke up with the beginnings of a cold yesterday morning.  I’ve seen and heard of many extreme ways to “cure” the common cold, from difficult-to-pronounce, foreign herbs to my Dad’s remedy, a long run and a shot of good vodka with cracked black pepper sprinkled on top, taken at the immediate onset of symptoms.  I imagine this would be more fun if you shot the vodka before the run, but I’m not a doctor.  Neither is Dad, but I digress.

In my opinion, the most effective and immediate relief for a head cold is spicy food served hot, particularly when you’re congested.  I’m a big fan of anything spicy and a big believer in its healing powers…I once rid myself of super itchy winter skin with a mixture of olive oil and cayenne pepper.  After suggesting this trick to my sister, she told me it did absolutely nothing, but…she’s not a doctor either.

So, I wanted some sort of soup yesterday and wasn’t able to find any for lunch.  Eating at 1:30 has it’s perks, in that you have a shorter window between finishing lunch and starting dinner, but it also means the best offerings at Royal Blue Grocery are sold out by the time you’re ready to eat.  Bummer.

Seeing that I’m leaving town for Christmas in Boston in a week, I wanted to try a pantry-cleaning spicy soup – using as much as I could of what I already had on-hand.  That didn’t turn out to be tortilla soup, as I had originally planned, much to Kyle’s dismay.  But what I came up with turned out tasty anyway, so I’d like to share, especially since it’s easy enough to pull together on a weeknight after a hellish day in the office.

I started by peeling and rinsing 4 medium-sized potatoes.  These were just plain Idaho potatoes, which, if I remember that episode of “Good Eats” correctly, is one of the starchier varieties.  I imagine any sort of potato would work here, though.  Sweet potatoes or some sort of squash would probably be delicious, too.  I chopped the potatoes into small, very rough chunks.

Veggies, pre-roast

Next, I cut maybe a third of a large red onion into half-inch slices, then each onion “coin” in half.  Then one jalapeño, sliced roughly.  If you prefer less heat, go ahead and de-seed and remove the ribs of the jalapeño.  But actually don’t.  The creaminess of the soup will help balance out the heat, really!  Now, the potatoes, onion, jalapeño, along with 4 unpeeled garlic cloves (might want to add that only 2 ended up going into the soup, as I snacked on the others.  2 was plenty, though) go into a foil-lined baking pan.  Drizzle some olive oil over everything, add salt and pepper liberally, and toss with your hands.  Note that I wasn’t being too careful about chopping everything uniform size, as in other recipes is helpful in that everything cooks and therefore finishes cooking at the same time.  Here, as long as the least-cooked piece is cooked through, I like that some of the onions are practically caramelized, and others were just barely translucent; and some potatoes were crispy while others were just soft.  Makes for a greater spectrum of flavor and texture in the finished soup.  This is one of many reasons why you can’t really F this up.  Throw everything into a 400° oven for anywhere between 20 and 40 minutes, depending on your taste.

Veggies, post-roast, pre-process

When they’re out of the oven (I left mine in about 35 minutes) and have cooled for 10 minutes or so, throw them into the food processor (after peeling the skins off of the garlic cloves).  I speak from experience when I say do this in two batches.  Just…yeah.  For each batch, add maybe half a cup of skim milk and a teaspoon (give or take) of chicken bouillon paste.  I’m not sure if that’s what it’s really called, but it’s basically a bouillon cube in liquid-y form.  Comes in a jar in the stock/broth aisle – keeps longer than those boxes of stock, which I never can use up before they expire.  You could also use one bouillon cube per batch of potatoes (two total), or just chicken stock (eliminating the milk), but I like the idea of a richer soup (i.e., the milk instead of what would be water in the stock).  I had planned on using milk with a heavier fat content, but in the end the skim was just right.  And that’s saying a lot, coming from someone who used to pour half-and-half over her cereal as a kid.

Once you’ve whizzed up the veggies, milk, and bouillon paste, you’ll have what look like sticky mashed potatoes with other colors twirled in.  Keep those to the side for now and melt one tablespoon of butter on medium heat in a stock pot, or anything you have that looks like it could hold a batch of soup.

Butter, flour, and milk; whisked

Once the butter’s melted, add one tablespoon of flour and whisk until combined.  After 2 minutes or so, the mixture should be bubbly and hot.  At this point, pour in cold skim milk – I guess I added about a cup and a half.  Whisk rapidly to avoid lumps forming and in a few minutes, you should have a simmering, smooth mixture.

To this, add about a cup of freshly grated cheese, your choice as to what variety.  I used sharp cheddar at Kyle’s suggestion and it was perfect (the orange color made for a prettier final product, too).  I find pre-grated cheese to not work well under these circumstances, because it’s always coated in some type of powder (flour or cornstarch or something, to keep it from sticking together in the bag).  As a result, it never melts down as well.  However, if this is your only option, I’d recommend not skipping the cheese.  Again, whisk rapidly to combine and the cheese should slowly melt down to make the mixture shiny and thick.  Mmmm.

Now, dump in the potato mixture and stir to combine.  Once it’s simmering, you can easily adjust the thickness of the soup.  I added maybe a cup of water at this point (and a little more bouillon paste, essentially adding stock), and it still turned out plenty thick.  Or add more milk.

Soup with garnishes

Once it’s bubbling, serve immediately.  All kinds of things would make a great garnish for this.  We used more grated cheese, Mexican sour cream (one of the many perks of living in a Mexican neighborhood – having things like this available in the grocery store.  It’s slightly thicker and a little less tangy), crispy bacon, and sliced fresh Serrano peppers.  Chives or scallions would have been perfect too.  Or the cute little Texas-shaped cheese crackers we just bought, I’m kicking myself for not adding those, at least for the sake of the picture.

Here’s the ingredient list:

  • 4 medium-sized potatoes
  • 1/3 of a large red onion
  • 1 (or more!) fresh jalapeño(s)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 1/2 cups skim milk
  • 2 tsp. bouillon paste (or 2 cubes)
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tbsp. flour
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese

Hope you enjoy.  This can be done with pretty much any veggie you can roast.  The roasting is the key – really adds a different depth of flavor and sweetness than if you were to boil the potatoes.  My Mom does a lower-calorie version with just broccoli, jalapeño, onions, garlic, and then blending that, after roasting, into chicken stock with an immersion blender.  I would have added my leftover Brussels sprouts to my soup, but I think Kyle’s afraid of them.  Don’t tell him I said that. 😉


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